Good Faith Advice
“I feel like feminism is important but I don’t feel comfortable being vocal about my position on women’s issues because I am not a woman. How can I, as a man and as a legal professional, advocate for (or at least not create more resistance to) women’s issues? What can I do in the workplace to demonstrate on a personal and structural level that I am a feminist?”
Dear Male Feminist:
The word feminism has become such a loaded term. Put simply, feminism is the belief in the equality of the sexes. Yet somehow this concept, this word, has turned into something hateful and undesirable. Your question, though stated with good intentions, exemplifies the societal pressure to be unassociated as a feminist. Your discomfort is not unique to you. The idea of feminism has become tainted and defined by the extreme only. Obviously a feminist is a woman who doesn’t shave her armpits and who annoyingly rants about rights and other such nonsense. With this definition, a man cannot be a feminist. A woman who likes to shave cannot be a feminist. Yet this definition ignores the most important part of the idea of feminism: equality.
By being vocal about your opinion for the equality of all genders, and labeling yourself as a feminist, you are rewriting the definition of feminism to its original and true meaning. Change starts with you. You cannot hide behind the masses. Well, you can, but why not be true to who you are and create positive change in your community? As far as how to act in the workplace, well it’s simple, just treat everyone the same irrespective of their gender. I know not everyone agrees with this approach. However, if you are a pure feminist then you should treat all genders equally. It really is as simple as the concept of feminism!
Dear Male Feminist:
I do agree with the initial statements of my colleague above. I would certainly agree that the word feminism can mean many different things to many people, both positive and negative, depending on one’s encounters with people who label themselves feminists. I would really encourage you to watch this TED Talk. Apologies for the Upworthy link, but I was too lazy to find the source. I think Mr. Katz hits the nail on the head here with how men should address feminism and women’s issues. A lot of it is about reframing and redefining the issues commonly thought of as feminist – gender violence, equality in the workplace, and the empowerment of women generally. From your statement of these issues as “women’s issues,” you may be missing the point.
Questions traditionally thought to be women’s issues, as Mr. Katz points out, are men’s issues as well and its easier to see this when the questions are reframed. “Sally hit the glass ceiling; why can’t she break through it?” becomes “What are the roles of institutions and structures in shaping how men treat women? How can we change the socialization of men and boys in order to allow women an equal place in society?” I think you need to ask these questions loudly and publicly. Feminism is about women, but there’s also a space for men to speak on these issues. Men, as those currently holding the power in society, must ask these questions and must reframe their views to acknowledge that the treatment of women affects them as well. If they do not, then women and men will never be truly equal.
As for how you should act in the workplace, I firmly believe that small actions create large waves. Being open-minded is important, but not being afraid is even more so. You say you’re not comfortable being vocal about your opinions because you’re not a woman – so does that mean that when you’re with a group of coworkers making sexist jokes in the office (we know it happens everywhere), you stay quiet? Speak up. You should be true to your beliefs and you should advocate for these issues because they’re YOUR issues too. A wise person once said, “the rising of the Woman is the rising of us all.” The more you work to end the idea that feminism is only for women by using your voice and allowing us to hear your perspective, the better we will all be.